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Estes Robbery – how shoplifting in California can become a serious felony and a strike

Posted by Neil Shouse | May 29, 2019 | 0 Comments

woman shoplifting
An Estes Robbery is charged as a felony.

Under California criminal law, an Estes Robbery is when a person:

  1. commits the crime of shoplifting, illegal under PC 459.5, and
  2. in the course of the crime, uses force or fear to get away from a store employee or a security guard.

The term “Estes Robbery” is used because a California court ruled, in People v. Estes, that Curtis Estes committed robbery, under PC 211, when he:

  • stole a coat from a department store, and
  • then swung a knife at a security guard that tried to stop him.

An Estes Robbery is charged as a felony. The crime is punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for;

  • two years,
  • three years, or
  • five years.

In addition, a conviction of the offense is considered a “Strike” under California's Three Strikes Law.

Basic shoplifting is defined as a person entering an open business, with the intent to steal merchandise worth $950 or less. The crime is typically charged as a misdemeanor and is punishable by:

  • imprisonment in the county jail for up to six months, and/or
  • a fine of up to one $1,000.

What is an “Estes Robbery”?

A prosecutor must successfully prove three things to show that a person committed an Estes Robbery. These are:

  1. the defendant took, or shoplifted, some merchandise from a store,
  2. was then approached by an employee from the store or a security guard, and
  3. the defendant used force or fear to get away from the employee/guard.

This crime is basically a simple petty theft shoplifting offense that becomes a robbery offense – due to the force or fear.

The term “Estes Robbery” is used to describe the crime because in 1983 a California court found Curtis Estes guilty of robbery. According to the facts of the case, Curtis stole a coat from a department store. A security guard then followed him outside the store and confronted him about the jacket. In an attempt to get away, Curtis pulled out a knife and swung it at the guard while threatening to kill him.

Further examples of an Estes Robbery include:

  • Pedro put some cologne from a store in his jacket and then kicked an employee that tried to stop him.
  • Martha pocketed some makeup from a cosmetics store and then threatened a security guard that wanted to question her.
  • Maurice lifted some food from a shop and then punched the shop's owner after she ran after him.

What are the Penalties for an Estes Robbery?

An Estes Robbery is charged as a felony. The crime is punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for;

  • two years,
  • three years, or
  • five years.

In addition, a conviction of the offense is considered a “Strike” under California's Three Strikes Law. These penalties can also increase significantly if:

  • a weapon is used, and/or
  • a victim is injured 

Are there legal defenses?

There are three common defenses that an accused may raise to challenge a charge of an Estes Robbery. These include:

  1. the defendant did not commit an underlying shoplifting offense (e.g., maybe he lawfully purchased an item from a store),
  2. the accused neither used force, nor, made any fearful threats, and
  3. the defendant was falsely accused.

Please note that a successful defense can often get a criminal charge reduced or even dismissed.

What is shoplifting, per Penal Code 459.5?

Penal Code 459.5 is the California statute that makes it a crime for a person to shoplift from a store. The statute defines shoplifting as:

  • entering an open business, and
  • doing so with the intent to steal merchandise worth $950 or less.

In other words, shoplifting is when a person enters an open business intending to commit the crime of petty theft.

Shoplifting is typically charged as a misdemeanor in California. The offense is punishable by:

  • imprisonment in the county jail for up to six months, and/or
  • a fine of up to one $1,000.

What is robbery, per Penal Code 211?

Penal Code 211 is the California statute that makes it a crime for a person to commit robbery. The statute says a person commits robbery when he:

  1. takes personal property from someone else's person or immediate presence,
  2. does so against the victim's will, and
  3. commits the taking using force or fear.

Robbery is charged as a felony in California. Depending on the facts of a case, the offense can be punished by as much as nine years in the state prison.

About the Author

Neil Shouse

A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, Court TV, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.

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